March 19, 2014

As a follow-up to Monday’s post, it is imperative that we get a more complete perspective on the current composition of our workforce and the opportunities to improve both their education and their training.

75% of the high school students that our education system graduates each year are not likely to earn a college baccalaureate degree. These students eventually comprise the majority of America’s front-line workforce, and the prosperity of this country depends on them. Yet, the skills they leave school with are not the skills American businesses need to return this nation to global competitiveness. Consequently, businesses are increasingly turning to media-based learning and simulations in order to effectively re-school their workforce.

And, if we can blur the lines between training and education, effective media-based instruction can contribute even more long-term solutions to the hemorrhage of high-skill, high-wage jobs into countries like Germany and Japan.

Compared with other countries, American front-line workers lag far behind in the sophisticated skills needed for a country to compete internationally: communications, math, science, conceptual thinking, flexibility, responsiveness, and technological expertise. These are skills that most front-line workers in Japan and many European countries possess, to the ultimate economic benefit of those nations. What those countries have learned about educating their workforce has been translated into comprehensive public education programs for the non-college bound student. These programs all but obliterate the conventional lines between education and training.

In the United States, however, the educational system has been little changed from that of fifty or more years ago, when most workers’ jobs were de-skilled and required little thinking. Perhaps that was appropriate for an America that led the world in a price-driven mass-production economy. People left school knowing all they would ever have to know in that environment. However, they did not learn how to get new information or how to continue learning.

Although the world economic reality has changed greatly since then, neither American education nor many American businesses have kept pace. Mass production and a price-driven economy are long gone, but too many organizations still segregate employment into non-thinking and thinking jobs. The new truth is that in order to perform on an international level, front-line workers have to reason. Yet today, most high school students in this country continue to follow an unfocused, teacher-centered, general educational curriculum that prepares them for neither college nor a vocation.

Thanks to the evolution of media-based instruction, change is underway. Colleges are rapidly adopting the distance learning concept — and, both the results and their enrollment numbers have increased significantly.

But, in order to be effective at developing highly qualified front-line workers, the stigma attached to vocational/technical education must be removed. In many European countries, an apprenticeship program bestows on its graduates respect for their high level of skill, and those nations recognize this with nationally accepted certification. Unfortunately, in America the vo-tech track remains too often perceived as dead-end, catering to society’s most disadvantaged by providing a minimum of skills designed to be used as a safety net from poverty.

Media-based learning is now both here and becoming prevalent. We must look to a new learning culture in order to rebuild an education system that values skills training (and, its graduates) in the same vein it rewards its college prep tracks.

And that means a recognition that television, tablets, and smart phones are a major part of our new learning culture — which translates into full-motion video, animated graphics, simulations and gaming as the better platforms for our needed improvements in training and education.

More on Monday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder of ITC Learning